A good percentage of people with back pain experience it because of a bulged or herniated disc. The pain can be felt in the region of the injury, or it can be felt in other places due to pressure that the bulge places on the nerves in the spine. So how can we treat this kind of damage? Many people believe the answer is drugs or surgery. Although many physicians will prescribe these remedies, they may be more harmful than they are helpful. Pain relievers don’t fix the issue, and surgery is invasive and should be used as a last resort. Instead, there are a few therapies that we use here at Dixie Chiropractic that can be used as non-invasive alternatives. I’m talking about our Laser and Decompression therapies. What are these therapies? How do they help injuries such as bulged and herniated discs? First, let’s make sure we understand the nature of bulged/herniated discs, and why they are so damaging.
So what is a bulged or herniated disc? In between each of the spine vertebrae are discs that act as a cushion to make sure there is no bone-on-bone grinding as the spine moves. It gives suspension when you run, jump, bend over, etc. Without these discs, the bone would fuse together with time, reducing mobility and leading to a life of pain. A bulged/herniated disc is what happens when too much pressure is placed on a disc, and they rupture. Think of a water balloon that you crush with your hand! Although the disc may not fully pop, it will rupture, and the gelatin-like inside will begin to spill out through the rupture. This can be very painful, but it leads to other problems as well. Think of the surrounding areas of the spinal disc- it is surrounded by nerves. The gelatin-like substance inside of the disc will spill out, and can push against the nerves. This may cause neurologic pain such as Sciatica (in the case of specifically the Sciatic nerve getting pushed against by the disc), which as you may know feels like pain running down the back of the leg/buttock. The pain being felt is in a different location than the injury itself! Where do they come from? Here is an excerpt from one of Dr. Wagner’s shows where he gives an explanation:
“So, we’re looking for compressive issues,we’re looking for movement disorders, we’re looking for stabilization problems. I go through my examination which puts people into a category, and then we do what’s best for them.[…] I mean, posture, we have so many sedentary people in our population now, and the thing that most people don’t realize is that living a sedentary lifestyle, sitting at a computer as a secretary, or being a programmer…Sedentary sitting lifestyle is not really what the human frame is made for. I think the great creator designed us to be up and moving and doing so, but that’s the society we live in so, there it is. We coach people on how to do that better to minimize the risk, but those are what we see even more often than construction workers, masons, and roofers, which is surprising.[…]And things like that, but they’re using their core muscles and that’s the difference that makes them a little better than those who sit sedentary. Truckers are another one that comes to mind. Long haul truck drivers really struggle because here they are relaxed in a comfortable seat, but they’re in that flex position, which rides the discs a little heavier and mile after mile. They lose a lot of that core stability and can have back problems because of it.”
A quick side note- different scenarios will bring different treatment plans, but the steps I will list are the most common steps we take at Dixie Chiropractic.
So how do we treat them? The first step is to treat the disc herniation itself. Remember the gelatin-like substance that spills out of the disc? If the pressure on the disc is relieved, it will pull the substance back into the disc like a vacuum! Another excerpt from Dr. Wagner:
“Spinal decompression is basically the process of de-stressing the disc and vacuuming what’s called the “Nucleus Pulposus” back into its normal position. So, we call it a “vacuum phenomenon”. So, a bulge, a herniation is just what you’re thinking of. It’s part of that disc bulging out outside of its zone, putting pressure on nerves, causing pain, causing sciatica, and causing numb arms, depending on the location. And so, we vacuum that disc in to get it off the nerve. And then […] we add laser therapy to that to strengthen it and get it to hold better.”
To relieve the pressure on the disc, we utilize Spinal Decompression therapy. Spinal Decompression is a treatment used to reduce the amount of pressure on the intervertebral discs. A machine is used to gently unload the pressure on the discs through a gradual pulling force which is applied to the spine in a controlled manner. Decompression therapy has been shown to reduce disc pressure and enhance the healing response.
Research indicates the disc is responsible for a significant number of incidents of back pain, leg pain, neck and arm pain syndromes. Since the disc doesn’t have its own blood supply, it doesn’t receive fresh blood and oxygen. Discs require diffusion, created by motion and decompression in order to restore nutrients and enhance healing. Candidates are carefully screened by a skilled clinician to determine whether decompression will be appropriate. This treatment creates a relatively quick initial response. Patients tend to feel a sense of relief with centralization of symptoms and reduction of pain within 1-3 sessions. Full relief, if attainable through this passive treatment, will usually be within 10-20 sessions. Not all conditions are amenable to decompression, which is why patients are carefully evaluated prior to treatment.
The next step is going to be to heal the disc rupture itself. Here at Dixie Chiropractic we have found a great amount of success via Laser Therapy. Laser therapy is a non-invasive procedure that creates a photochemical response in damaged or dysfunctional tissues. It has been found to reduce inflammation, accelerate healing, and eliminate pain in those suffering from acute and chronic clinical conditions.
Though laser has been used therapeutically as far back as the 70s, after clearance by the FDA in 2003 it became a standard of care for many clinics in treating musculoskeletal injuries. It works by converting light into biochemical energy (similar to photosynthesis in plants) which creates “super cells” that expedite the healing process and get rid of pain. As opposed to muscle relaxers and pain killers, laser therapy stimulates the cells to heal themselves instead of masking the underlying issue.
When you feel better after a session, it’s because your body is actually healing and functioning at a higher level, not just because it is “numb to the pain” as with taking pills. This type of therapy is not about covering up chronic pain, but about cultivating healthy tissue so that there is no more pain. It is a long-lasting, if not permanent, relief of symptoms. The type of laser used in our clinic is a Class IV laser, the most powerful laser made, which increases the depth of penetration and speed of healing. These powerful lasers can penetrate deep enough to even speed the healing of spinal discs. This enables us to help discs in roughly half the time we used to, and to be able to heal more severe disc herniations than we could. On the subject of the laser used in the office, Dr. Wagner said:
“It is the strongest made. I do have the strongest laser in the area. You can feel it. So, some people have come into my office, and they’ve said I’ve had laser before it didn’t help much. And the first question I will ask them is, well, what did you feel when they were doing it? And they said, oh, they kind of said it on me and walked away. And I said really, and it wasn’t cooking you? I mean, I say that little tongue in cheek, but it is true. We have to do it manually and we have to keep that thing moving this is a powerful laser. So, if you’ve had laser before and you couldn’t feel it, it’s just not penetrating most likely to the tissues that need it.”
By stimulating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production and enhancing cell membrane permeability, a Class IV Laser helps deep, chronic injuries heal like never before seen. Though its effects are far-reaching, it is even safe to apply over metal implants, broken skin, and on acute injuries.
Many patients note improvement in their condition in just one or two sessions! These sessions may be scheduled three to five times per week, until the condition is under control. We have many success stories from Dr. Wagner:
“I’m thinking of Nelson, an 85-year-old male. Long time, multiple disc herniations he had radiation in both of his legs. Okay. So, by radiation, I mean that burning, tingling, numbness going down his butt, down his legs all the way to his feet.[…] Well, it’s true so many people out there in the public, they just figure, this is I’m getting old, and this is the way it is. And, you know, take some ibuprofen, those kinds of things. Well, he was even having difficulty walking because he was starting to lose strength now. My caveat to this is I have so many patients that come into my office and they will say things like, I think it’s just a pinched nerve. Okay. Now just the pinch nerve is really bad. But a lot of people come in and say that, and what they really mean is I’ve got kind of sharp pain in this one location. That’s not a pinched nerve when you get a pinched nerve it is shooting somewhere. […] So, with that radiation down the legs, that’s where it becomes serious because in his case now, it’s starting to affect not only the pain fibers of the nerve but the motor fibers, when you start losing strength, that is a serious, serious condition. And that’s where he was. He was having difficulty walking because his legs were becoming weaker. This is what we call “partial paralysis”. All right. So, this is bad. Anyway, within three weeks, strength back, no more radiation into his legs, and no low back pain. It was an awesome case. And this is an 85-year-old gentleman.”
On top of Laser therapy, another common one used in our office to treat Disc Herniations is Ozone Therapy. In Ozone Therapy, Ozone (Three Oxygen Atoms bonded together) is injected into an affected area and helps promote healing. Ozone has many benefits and each of those benefits helps with the healing and regeneration of the tissues that are injected with ozone. Ozone helps with the activation of the immune system, improving circulation, increasing metabolism, increasing tissue oxygenation, increasing cellular rejuvenation, and ozone is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Without question, these biological processes are vital for tissue healing and recovery. Ozone helps to facilitate these processes at an increased level working directly with the injured cells. It all really boils down to the body and the cells utilizing oxygen more efficiently and thereby increasing the body’s natural ability to heal.
When ozone is injected into the body it creates a small oxidative stress in the tissues. Oxidative stress is not as bad as it sounds. This small stress response helps to increase the amount of antioxidant enzymes that help to eliminate free radicals. Free radicals are the major cause of cell decay and death as well as degenerative diseases such as arthritis.
Ozone when injected will automatically be broken down and forms O2 and hydrogen peroxide or H2O2. Your body then converts the H2O2 into water and even more oxygen. All of this oxygen is then used by the mitochondria to produce ATP which is the energy source of all of our cells.
The use of Ozone in treating these disorders has proven to be effective in reducing inflammation and chronic pain. It does this by speeding up the healing process through enhancing the body’s natural ability to produce collagen (a major component of normal tendon) to replace the damaged areas with healthy tissue. In a study done on Achilles tendon healing, it was revealed that patients who received Ozone Therapy had significantly higher breaking load and tensile strength in their tendons than those who did not. After just 24 hours there was a difference in the body’s ability to produce healthy tissue in those who received Ozone. As a result, the findings indicated that the Ozone Therapy had beneficial effects on healing.
Depending on the extent of the injury, and the damage to the tissues surrounding the disc herniation, different treatment may be required. Some patients deal with serious neurologic pain that won’t be helped as much by laser or decompression therapies. We are prepared for these scenarios as well!
Another therapy we use here at Dixie Chiropractic is Calmare Therapy. Calmare works with your brain’s pain signals in a similar way as opioids, but Calmare uses a biophysical rather than a biochemical approach, avoiding the adverse side effects and addictive properties linked to narcotic painkillers.
Calmare is often used to treat neuropathy, which can be caused by disc herniations! Here is an excerpt from Dr. Wagner answering whether or not neuropathy can be caused by disc herniations:
“The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is that neuropathies have become its own disease. Even though in medical science, medical terminology, neuro means nerve, pathy means abnormal or painful. So neuropathy just
simply means nerve pain and yes, this can cause nerve pain, but whenever you hear someone talking about neuropathy versus nerve pinching from a disc, they are talking
about totally different things. Now, thankfully in my office, we do deal with both of them.
We deal with fixing disc issues causing nerve pain and then we also use the Calmare machine to help with true neuropathy. So in my office, I encourage people no matter
what kind of nerve pain they’re having to come in and get checked. We are really good at differentiating which one it is and then of course, there’s that small percentage of the population who’s blessed to have both and that’s rough. I get many times people who have neuropathy, but they’re also in my office because they’ve got a bulging disc that’s putting pressure on the nerves causing sciatic pain.”
A “no-pain” message is transmitted to the nerve via disposable surface electrodes applied to the skin in the region of the pain.The perception of pain is canceled when the no-pain message replaces that of pain, by using the same pathway through the surface electrodes in a non-invasive way.
Regardless of the pain intensity, it can be completely removed for immediate relief.
The protocol for Calmare is 15 treatments over a 3-week period. Though some patients have found relief in fewer sessions, we have found that this number of treatments has proven to keep the pain away for the longest possible time frame.
Patients have an average duration of pain relief of one to three months following treatment, with some patients reporting pain relief up to a year. And for patients suffering from nerve pain, where tissue damage has been stabilized, the symptoms completely resolve, for good.
Most people with chronic pain have either used or heard of, a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator) unit. So how is Calmare different? Well, a TENS unit will “mask” the pain, as long as it’s running. Once removed, the pain returns. Calmare doesn’t just mask the pain message, it actually delivers a “no-pain” signal to the brain, thereby canceling out the pain message altogether.
There are a few folks who may not be great candidates for Calmare Pain Therapy Treatments. People with a pacemaker, defibrillator, or electrical implant, as well as those with head pain. Also, patients who are using neuroleptic agents for pain, such as Lyrica (pregabalin), Neurontin (gabapentin), or Elavil (amitriptyline) may not experience the same amount of pain relief. However, we work with patients on weaning them off those drugs, so they can experience the full benefits of Calmare, and get off the other medications.
To sum up, when dealing with disc herniations/bulges there are a few different options. However, a good plan usually goes as follows: Step 1: reduce pressure on the disc by utilizing Spinal Decompression Therapy. Step 2: Heal the rupture on the disc via Laser Therapy and/or Ozone Injection Therapy. If pain still lingers due to nerve damage, Step 3 is Calmare therapy.
The bottom line is, here at Dixie Chiropractic we provide great alternatives to surgery. Between all of our therapies, we are able to save surgery as a last resort instead of Plan A. Healing things naturally via our therapies trumps disc replacement surgery! If you or a loved one are experiencing pain from a disc bulge/herniation, don’t wait to call our office and get scheduled for an exam. The road to a pain-free life can start today!